SPRINGFIELD -- Hours before petitions were delivered to the State Board of Elections, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan's top attorney filed a lawsuit seeking to stop a term limits ballot measure championed by Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner from being put to voters in November.
The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Cook County by Michael Kasper, general counsel for the Illinois Democratic Party, which is chaired by Madigan.
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Madigan, who was first elected to the legislature in 1970 and has been speaker since 1983, is chairman of the state Democratic Party. The suit also challenges an effort to put on the ballot a measure asking voters to endorse an independent mechanism for redrawing election district lines after every U.S. census.
Supporters of term limits were quick to call the lawsuit a "cynical ploy" by Madigan.
The 25-page complaint, filed on behalf of a group of community leaders representing a diverse group of ethnic, racial and business interests, argues that the proposed ballot measures are invalid because they do not meet a constitutional requirement for changes to the legislature. The complaint also says "millions of taxpayer dollars" should not be used by the Board of Elections to reach that conclusion.
A spokesman for Madigan declined to comment on any involvement in the lawsuit.
"I know Speaker Madigan believes everyone should play by the rules," spokesman Steve Brown told The Associated Press.
Disclosure of the lawsuit came as Rauner announced Wednesday morning that he had collected more than 590,000 signatures for the term limits petition, nearly twice the approximately 300,000 required to get on the ballot.
He says changing the state constitution to impose eight-year term limits on Illinois lawmakers while also shrinking the size of the state Senate and giving the governor more power to override legislators' vetoes would provide a "dramatic shift" against what he calls a prevalent "culture of corruption" in Springfield.
With the race for Illinois governor expected to be one of the most competitive in the nation, both major political parties are trying to drive voter turnout.
Democrats, who control the legislature, recently approved resolutions placing an anti-voter discrimination measure and an amendment that would strengthen victims' rights on the November ballot. Both are seen as helping to encourage women and minorities to go to the polls. Republicans, in turn, have pushed the term limits and redistricting initiative, arguing that Democrats have been in charge of the state for too long.
The lawsuit filed Tuesday was on behalf of people including former Illinois Gaming Board chair Elzie Higginbottom, and Fernando Grillo, the former Department of Financial and Professional Regulation Secretary, two political appointees under recent Democratic governors.
And a group called "Yes for Independent Maps" is planning to submit signatures Thursday to the state Board of Elections, seeking to place a measure on the November ballot that would take the job of creating legislative and congressional districts away from lawmakers and give it to an independent commission of experts.
Advocates say allowing politicians to draw the maps leads to the majority party in Springfield unfairly accumulating power that can last a decade. They can adjust a district's lines to protect incumbents.
"The suit was filed by Speaker Madigan's lawyer. This is nothing more than a cynical ploy to keep powerful political special interests in charge," Mark Campbell, spokesman for Rauner's Committee for Legislative Reform and Term Limits said.
Both Kasper and the State Board of Elections did not immediately return requests for comment. Kasper has served as Chicago Democrat's top election lawyer for years and also represented Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in legal residency battles.